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Rory Cooper of the Heritage Foundation: Obama rallies the 99% against the 1%

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Washington on Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech. And now joining us to give us his take on the speech is Rory Cooper. Rory is director of communications for the Heritage Foundation. He served for more than seven years in the George Bush administration, completing his service as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Energy. Thanks for joining us, Roy.


JAY: So in terms of the tone of the speech, I thought that Newt Gingrich has been—gave a more passionate speech against elites and against capitalist exaggerations and so on than President Obama did, but he’s the one getting called a socialist. What do you make of all this?

COOPER: Well, this speech was exactly what President Obama said we could call it, which was a long overture in class warfare. We heard the same State of the Union, actually, last year from him. In fact, this is the first time in 365 days he’s actually even talked about immigration reform. So this was exactly the speech we heard last year. It was where he talked about the equality of results rather than the equality of opportunity, which is what the American dream is based on. He talked about massive spending increases, and then yet followed it up by giving lipservice to the deficit and debt. This is the President Obama we’ve been hearing give campaign speeches for the last six months. This was one and the same.

JAY: Now, in terms of class warfare, are you one of the Republicans that thinks Newt Gingrich is, I think, to use Rush Limbaugh’s term, or maybe Mitt Romney’s, that Gingrich is using the tools of the left? Is this—I thought Gingrich was using it more than Obama was.

COOPER: Well, I certainly think that President Obama tonight laid out a long list of things that would hurt business, hurt enterprise in this country, and also wouldn’t help create jobs. You know, you notice that he didn’t talk about the Keystone Pipeline but did talk about oil jobs. He has—through the moratorium and through rejecting the pipeline, has killed tens of thousands of jobs that today he then said that he was going to give lip service to. So I take the president at his own word tonight, which means less jobs, more spending, more debt, more deficit, and really just another campaign speech.

JAY: Now, when you accuse him of using—of waging class warfare, but the words of class warfare. But let me ask you: is there in fact class warfare going on in America?

COOPER: Well, there certainly is with President Obama. I mean, when he had Warren Buffett’s secretary up in the first lady’s box, this was a claim on Warren Buffett’s taxes that has been fact-checked by every organization, including the AP,, and others that have thoroughly debunked this claim that Warren Buffett pays less taxes than his secretary. Yet here President Obama was once again—.

JAY: Well, hold on. Just to be fair, I don’t think it was about less taxes. It’s about the tax rate, not the aggregate amount of taxes.

COOPER: Well, sure. Let’s talk about the tax rate. When you interchangeably use income taxes and capital gains taxes, you forget the fact that capital gains are based on investments used with post-tax income. Most capital gains taxes, while those are taxed at 15 percent, have actually been taxed at 45 percent or more along the haul of once that person had the money. So, you know, we do have to talk honestly about these issues and stop trying to divide America by turning 99 percent against the 1 percent or whatever Occupy language President Obama wants to use.

JAY: But with the amount of concentration of wealth over the last decade and the fact that wages have remained more or less stagnant since even the ’70s, you know, there’s been a few ups and downs, but on the whole there has not been the same movement in wages as productivity. Isn’t that a form of class warfare? I mean, you don’t dispute the basic numbers, do you, that the 1 percent has certainly benefited far more than most other people have?

COOPER: I do dispute the fact that right now we have to try and slow down the economic growth of the people who are creating wealth in this country in order to redistribute it to the rest of the people. What we want to do is be able to create equal opportunity for all people to make it into that 1 percent. Rather than trying to bring everyone down to some equal level, let’s try to bring everybody up. You heard him talk about education, which is a way to bring people up, yet he—during this week of School Choice week, he won’t support people being able to get out of bad schools, because he’s afraid to make the teachers unions angry. So I agree: let’s bring everybody up. Let’s stop trying to bring everybody down.

JAY: Well, is there an example of an administration—I mean, if you take the eight years of the Bush administration, did people—were people raised up? Like, is there any evidence of what you’re saying works is what I’m saying, the kind of policies you’re suggesting? Where is the evidence that it has had some success?

COOPER: Well, look at the Bush tax cuts, which are often derided by this administration. After 2003, you saw 52 straight months of economic growth. You saw jobs being created. You saw economic growth being created.

JAY: But wasn’t much of that growth various bubbles one after the other?

COOPER: Well, I don’t understand. Are we to reject economic growth because we’re afraid that someday it might go away? We want to create long-term economic growth, of course, but we also want to make sure that right now we fix 9 percent unemployment. And this unemployment rate’s been going up under President Obama, not going down. When he talks about results, those are results I’m looking at: higher debt, higher deficits, higher spending, and less results.

JAY: Well, let me ask you, on the Republican side, what do you make of the race? As I keep trying to interject, I’ve been kind of taken with how Newt Gingrich has made his gains with—I think quite honestly, when Romney says he’s using the tools of the left, he is. He’s gained South Carolina basically by attacking big capitalists.

COOPER: Well, I mean, obviously there was a close race in South Carolina and there were serious issues that South Carolinians cared about, for example, the National Labor Relations Board, which is shutting down—or trying to shut down Boeing jobs, and finally President Obama relented on that. And so of course the Republican candidates are going to be talking about what they’ll do to try and fix these issues, and there’s going to be differences of opinion. But I certainly think that there is more talk of free enterprise and allowing people to have this opportunity and equality of opportunity for them to be able to have success in their lives over on the Republican side right now. But, you know, I think that everybody needs to come out with more concrete plans. Heritage Foundation had a Saving the American Dream plan, which actually reformed the tax code, reformed our entitlement system, and put us on these long growth—this long-term trajectory towards economic growth and fixing these problems. So I think all candidates right now need to embrace some of this.

JAY: And just to go back to President Obama’s speech, is there anything in it you liked?

COOPER: Well, I certainly appreciated what he was saying about the troops and how we were able to defeat Osama bin Laden. And I think that everybody should give President Obama credit for that. I believe that we’re going to hear him take credit for that over the next ten months. But that does not define a foreign policy. President Obama actually took credit also for putting pressure on Iran, which to me was somewhat laughable, considering how disjointed and reckless his Iran policy over the last three years has been and how much closer they are to a nuclear weapon because of his policies. So, you know, he did take credit for some things that I think he probably shouldn’t have. But I do give him credit on the fact that I do believe he supports the troops, and he of course supports SEAL Team Six, who did an excellent job taking out Osama bin Laden.

JAY: And just quickly, what would you have liked to have seen him do in terms of Iran that he didn’t do?

COOPER: Well, Iran has been flaunting their nuclear capabilities in our faces for three years. They’re threatening to shut down the Straight of Hormuz, which would obviously cause a serious oil shortage globally. And meanwhile we’re adding our dependence onto them, making us more dependent on their oil, which is an obvious sign to Iran that we’re not going to take—that we’re not taking these threats seriously.

JAY: Well, the United States is not using any Iranian oil right now.

COOPER: But what we are—but we are using oil from a global supply, and obviously when you have Iran oil taken off the market, there is a global supply disruption [crosstalk]

JAY: So would you—you would have stopped buying global oil?

COOPER: Excuse me?

JAY: I’m not quite understanding. Then you would have stopped buying oil globally?

COOPER: No. What the United States needs to be doing is to be building up our own supplies and building up trade on oil with more friendlier nations like Canada, which is what was offered in the Keystone Pipeline that President Obama rejected.

JAY: And did you not like his proposal to open up 75 percent of the offshore fields?

COOPER: I think it’s great, except for the fact that actions speak louder than words. Since President Obama’s been in office, drilling on public land, which is the only oil that he can take credit for, is down 40 percent. So if you look at his moratorium, you look at the drilling permits that are almost down to nothing at the Department of Interior, and then you look at what he proposed tonight, actions speak louder than words, and right now we’re seeing no action on this front. And that’s why we’re going to see increases in oil prices as we head to the summer.

JAY: Now, in terms of its economic policies, he still seems to raise more money on Wall Street than Republican candidates do, so he can’t be so opposed to big business if he’s these raising that kind of funds there, can he?

COOPER: Well, I mean, I think both parties have—are certainly raising money up in Wall Street. And that’s not the issue. The issue is whether—what we’re actually going to do with regulations to make sure that capital and loans are available to consumers. Right now, with the Dodd-Frank bill, which President Obama signed into law, it’s very hard for people to gain access to capital and very unsure of how they’re going to have the certainty to be able to add jobs in the future. So what he may be raising money from his Wall Street friends in New York, but he’s certainly turning around and hurting small business owners across this country who are looking for signals of less strain from the government and less burdensome controls from Washington.

JAY: Just finally, going back to this issue of the language of class warfare and turning 99 percent against the 1 percent and so on, do you think in fact this is a class society?

COOPER: Is the United States a class society?

JAY: Yeah.

COOPER: I mean, we have—we’ve always talked in terms of classes. I think that it’s conservatives who have been trying to give people on the lower economic ladder the ability to climb up it. That’s what we’ve been doing with our anti-poverty programs, being able to get people back to work. When you don’t give people incentives to get off of the government dependency rolls, then of course you’re going to keep them in this ongoing cycle of waiting for Uncle Sam to give them more and more and more. What we need to do is be able to get these people into jobs, so that they can have the same self-esteem that people who go to work every day do that they’ve earned their living and that they’re contributing to society. That’s what conservatives have always proposed. And as I said, tonight you heard that President Obama’s looking for the equality of results. We’re looking for the equality of opportunity.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

COOPER: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Rory Cooper is the director of communications for The Heritage Foundation. Cooper served for more than seven years in the administration of George W. Bush, completing his service as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Energy.